Lord of the Flies

Chapter Thirteen: The Salt and the Shadows

Le'letha

Summary: A school assignment: Write Chapter 13, the resolution to LOTF. After the boys are rescued, what happens on the ship? What tensions still remain from the island? And in the end, who's really in charge?

Author's Note: As said in the summary, this was a school assignment that got out of control. My English teacher has yet to learn: never hand me a creative writing assignment without also handing me a page limit. She really liked this, so I decided to submit it. I'm sure you all will agree: the ending to LOTF is really unsatisfying. The grownups turn up and they all cry? Say what? That's a stupid way to end a really good book!

Disclaimer: I don't own Lord of the Flies.

ON WITH THE SHOW!

Almost in a paroxysm of fear, Ralph cautiously glanced around the next corridor of the ship, checking in all directions before scurrying to another juncture, where he repeated the process. The walls of the ship pressed in on all sides, like stone walls in a gulch. The illusion was not diffused in the slightest by the blank end of the corridor. Ralph might know on one level that the corridor was merely ending; another part of him screamed and gibbered in fear. He felt trapped by the steel ceiling overhead and the too-smooth carpet underneath. If he had to run, how would his feet get a grip on the ground? It would be like running on the smooth sand on the beach in the middle of the day. The littluns were fond of doing that. Like falling off the twister, the fact that they inevitably pitched forward and ended up with a mouthful of sand did not seem to deter them from picking themselves up and dashing off again.

Ralph made it to the nearest doorway and paused again, checking the plaques on the door. Only a little further and he'd be safe.

When he got back to his bunk, however, long ready to pull the comforters, smelling of laundry detergent and sea air, over his head and hide, his breath was taken away in a gasp of fear as something moved in the shadows. A formless, shapeless mass, it flailed around anew at the sound of his voice. A darker figure loomed over it. Heedless of his relative safety away from the island and Castle Rock, the dark depths of the forest where no one went and the crackling of a wildfire, Ralph turned on his heels and fled back into the hallway, slamming the door behind him.

He hadn't got very far when the creature spoke, opening the door between them.

"Ralph! We were—"

"—looking for you!"

Slumping against the wall, with his heart slowing down from its triple-time beat, Ralph relaxed somewhat. It was only Samneric. The inseparable twins fought themselves loose of the sheet, under which they had been playing incomprehensible twin games, and grinned cheerfully at him. Ralph had no idea how they'd managed it, but when one of them (possibly Eric) had lost a canine, Sam had somehow managed to get the exact same tooth knocked out. Any hope of telling them apart was long gone.

"What do you think you're doing?" Ralph hissed at them. "Lurking around like that! Scare a body to death!" he snapped, and then wished he hadn't. Under his criticism, Samneric wilted like weeds. But more importantly, he knew you really could scare someone to death. Ralph felt himself shrink away inside.

Samneric felt it too. They swarmed up to him, dragging the sheet with them, and not even glancing at each other, dumped it over his head, chuckling merrily in antiphonal unison.

Taken by surprise, Ralph tried to fight his way loose of the sheet, but the giggling twins kept out of the way of his baffled flailing. Their cheer was catching, and Ralph felt his mood lighten as he tried first to get out from under the sheet and second catch the twins, beginning to laugh himself. Simple, lighthearted play, with no concern for anything but the game, with adults right round the corner ready to call it off if anyone got too rough—Ralph had a feeling that was how life was supposed to be.

Still halfway tangled in the cloth, Ralph suddenly stopped, with length of sheet in one hand and twin in the other. Sam pulled loose as a thought suddenly struck the bigger boy.

"Samneric?" Ralph asked. "Who else were you playing with?"

"What do you—"

"—mean, Ralph? There was—"

"—nobody else with—"

"—us."

"We came by ourselves."

But Ralph could have sworn there'd been someone else in the room with the twins when he'd come in. He tore off the sheet, leaving it lying in the corridor, and ran back to the bunks.

There was no one there. As the twins came up behind him, a boy—Bill—snuck in the far door, and, ignoring Ralph and Samneric after one shameful glance, crept under the covers and proceeded to go to sleep.

"See, Ralph?"

"No one there."

"Yeah," Ralph said slowly, scratching at his newly short hair. "Maybe."

Any chance of resolving that issue further was ended when the latest officer in charge of the ragtag group turned up and began yelling at them for leaving the sheet in the hallway—'obstructing your elders and betters' and 'a ship of war, not a nursery'—were some of the phrases he used. 'Not little savages' was another.

Ralph wasn't too sure about that. But he obediently picked up the sheet and put it back on the bed, curling up in a little ball underneath it. There he tried to banish all thoughts from his mind—disturbing thoughts along the lines of What if we crash? What if they can't find our parents? Why can't I remember my dreams? Is Jack going to come after me? and Who was with Samneric?

Eventually, after a stream of kids had made various going-to-bed-like-real-people noises, the sharp-voiced young officer announced "Lights out!" and switched off the lights. The only illumination was a soft glow from the running lights along every corridor and wall, which emitted only enough light to suggest shadows instead of piercing them.

Ralph tried not to look, and he fell into an uneasy doze.

He was back on the island, floating in the water. It was gentle and warm, and it rocked him gently back and forth. Beneath his feet, when he stretched them out, the sand sifted slowly between his bare toes. In the distance, through the sound of the waves and the water clogging his ears, he could hear the voices of boys, although they were too distant to pick out individually.

In a heartbeat, the water went from calming to cruel. It beat at his body fiercely, tugging him down. Flailing, Ralph gulped salt water as he tried to breathe and scream at the same time. He panicked anew as he realized he couldn't move his arms. They were limp and useless. Through his skin, he could see bones when he squinted. He was far too heavy, and he couldn't breathe for fear. The salt stung his useless eyes as he sank.

Back on the ship, Ralph yelped in his sleep and rolled over, thrusting the suffocating sheets off of his body.

For a little while after that, although it felt like it was an eternity, Ralph was running through the heat and the damp, and the branches and stones tore at his arms and legs. Vines tried to strangle him, pinning him to the trunk of a tree. They pulled at him, and he flew into the air. By the time he regained control, he was clinging to a branch too high up to know how he had got there, and the howling was coming closer by the second. Ralph clung to the branch, and wondered whether to fall on his own or wait for them to catch him.

The scene blurred as he fell and solidified into a black, shifting darkness that crawled all over him, pinching his sunburned skin and tickling the spots that the remains of his clothes had worn raw. The darkness filled his eyes and his ears. When he tried to breathe, the darkness claimed his nose, and when he opened his mouth to scream a warning to whom? it filled his mouth and crawled into his heart and soul, filling him with writhing shadows that were so hungry…

Ralph lashed out in fear, his physical body reacting the chaos in his mind, and snatched the nearest thing, panicking. What he'd grabbed emitted a small yelp, and struck him in the face. He let go in sudden pain, the blood in his dream trickling into his real mouth. It tasted of salt water and the sweat of fear.

The boy on the other end of the arm pulled loose and disappeared into the darkness. Something clattered to the hard ground by the edge of the bunk, and without thinking, Ralph leaned over and scooped it up. Thrusting it under his pillow and feigning sleep lest anyone noticed, Ralph explored it with his fingers. No sooner had he discovered an edge than he felt it bite into his skin. With a muffled exclamation, he pulled away and put his finger into his mouth. More blood added to the awful taste. Ralph spat in disgust, swabbing at his lips with the back of his hand, and licked his finger clean. The object under his pillow was a knife, probably stolen from the galley during dinner. There were thirty-four boys to monitor, a little less than half of them littluns who were desperate for attention. It would be easy to secrete a weapon in the new clothes they'd all been given.

Someone was trying to kill him, and Ralph rather thought he knew who. Maybe he was going to need a knife too.

He put his hand back under his pillow and gripped the knife's handle reassuringly.

The next morning, Ralph looked hard at everyone he saw, searching for signs of anger or guilt in the faces that shared a bunk room with him. It wasn't easy. The pitiful remnants of Jack's tribe, in a different room from their leader and stripped of their paint and dances, huddled in a group in one corner. All of them were afraid of Roger, who usually sat on his bunk and ignored them all, sometimes looking out from under heavy lids to affix some particularly noisy littlun or tribe member with a smolderingly angry glare.

Ralph sat in another corner. Samneric, missing Ralph, but too afraid to go near him lest Roger care to turn his dark gaze on them and assert his latent authority, played games with the littluns who frolicked in the entire compartment, beneath the notice of the biguns who glared, stared, and cowered across the big room.

Some twist of fate, luckily for Ralph, had separated Jack from his most loyal and most dangerous henchman. If all three of them were in the same room, Ralph did not believe he would have lasted the night. It would have been a death sentence for him. Not for a moment did he believe Jack would forgive the double grudges of Ralph at once escaping his hunt and declaring himself leader to an adult.

Rumor ran rampant among the boys, as they had very little to do but sit and talk. Some of the boys of Jack's tribe were cheerfully chattering about what they had heard through the crew about finding their parents. Although it was most likely that they would continue on to the refugee camp where they had been headed in the first place, many of the boys, especially the younger ones who still counted as biguns, were of the opinion that they'd already been refugees, and there would be no point in their continuing to be so.

Ralph was pretty sure that Roger had been the one to try to kill him, and he was reasonably sure that it had been on Jack's orders. The two dorm rooms saw each other at mealtimes, and it has already been established that supervision was rather lax. If stealing a weapon was so easy, how hard could it be to have one whispered conversation?

By lights-out that evening, Ralph was more on edge than ever. He was afraid that someone would attack him in the halls; he worried about one of the crew finding the knife he'd taken from his attacker, now hidden under his mattress, for many of the littluns and quite a few biguns had taken to wetting their beds, and the crew were forced to change the sheets quite often; he worried about the war; he worried about seeing his family, if they weren't all dead in the war.

He worried about the dreams. He didn't want to go back to sleep.

After the lights had died down, and he could hear snores, whimpers, and outright crying from assorted beds, Ralph lay with eyes open in the darkness, waiting. Neither Jack nor Roger were likely to let their failed attempt go uncompleted for long. But this time, Ralph would be ready for them. He only hoped he could attract enough attention. Otherwise it would be two against one, and Ralph wasn't ready for that.

Through half-closed eyes, he watched as boys got up and down to use the bathroom, exiting and returning through the door left ajar for just that purpose. His nerves were taut from the tension, and the hilt of the knife was biting into his hand.

Someone else left, and returned, from the sound of the door, quite quickly. Ralph looked in that direction, trying to disguise it as normal thrashing.

Silhouetted in the light shadows, Ralph could make out Roger's stocky form. That meant that the other boy was probably Jack. This was made even more likely by the return of an extra boy; the two who were standing and awake dropped to the ground lest they be seen.

Ralph was so tense he didn't even register the minutes before the two boys crept towards him. His mind was overstressed, and he couldn't react. The time passed in a blur. So despite his preparations, when Roger jumped on him, pinning him down, he was taken by surprise.

A whoof! sound escaped him as the breath was forced out of his lungs. Struggling to throw the heavy boy off, the wound in his side reopened, making the sheets damp with blood. Despite this, he managed to bring his other hand up and stab at Roger with the sharp edge.

He missed any vital organ, but the cut was enough to make Roger relax his hold as he shied away. What little victory this gained him was taken away again when Jack grabbed him, throwing punches at his face and body.

Furious, Ralph struck back, dropping the knife and ramming Jack backward like a bull. They fell to the ground, rolling over and over as each tried to hold the other down and/or throw him off. Roger recovered from the shallow wound and circled the fight, looking for an opportunity to leap in.

All around them, boys had been wakened by the struggle, and they sat up, crying out in surprise and staring. They did not cheer for either leader; should the other win, they did not want to have supported the loser. In addition, the door flew open, and the occupants of the other dorm piled in to watch the fight. They formed a ring around the combatants, who regardless of their audience, had eyes only for each other and the battle. Roger grabbed the two biggest boys of Jack's island tribe, and shoved them towards their former leader with the intent of making them fight for him. They fought him, and others joined in, so that there were two battles running; Roger against everyone, and Ralph against Jack.

Littluns were crying all around, dragged out of bed and into a waking world as violent as the real one they'd escaped from and the dream one they'd been in. They hovered as if to flee, torn between fear and fascination.

The circle shifted as Ralph and Jack fought, silently and furiously. It shifted over to the side of Ralph's bunk, where the knife had dropped. They saw it at the same time, and they both lunged for it, scrabbling at each other with one hand as they reached out with the other.

Jack got it first; Ralph made a sudden leap and fell short. The redhead held it up triumphantly, and jumped back on his adversary, who was still sprawled full-length on the floor. Seizing him by the throat, he threw Ralph up against the wall. Stunned, Ralph slid to a defeated seat on the floor.

Panting, they looked at each other for a long moment. They looked at the knife, which Jack was holding crudely against Ralph's throat where he imagined the jugular vein to be. They looked at the circle, for the first time.

"I'm chief," Jack panted. "I'm stronger. I'm better. See how weak he is?"

Jack stared at the circle, which stared back. He looked all around, and then scanned the rest of the cabin for anyone he'd missed glaring at.

He found someone.

Jack dropped the knife, eyes bugging out in terror. Ralph didn't even stop to see what had scared the redhead so. Instead, he wisely grabbed the knife as it clattered to the ground.

In the space of a few seconds, their positions were totally reversed. Jack had his hands over his eyes. Ralph had the knife, and the attention of everyone.

Ralph looked at the knife. Stolen from the ship's galley, it had been intended to cut the meat of dead animals. It was very sharp, and he could see his reflection in it, as he had been unconsciously polishing it all night in his nervousness.

His reflection stared back. Jack stared at the knife too.

Ralph could kill Jack. But…

He didn't drop the knife, because that would be stupid. But he did stop pointing it at Jack, who took the opportunity to scramble away. That in itself—the undignified scramble—would disqualify him from any respect he might have retained after losing the fight.

"We're neither of us chief," he said, trying to make sense. "Because we're just kids, d'you see? And we can't kill things any more, and definitely not people. Because adults don't let kids do that."

Ralph took a deep breath and said the magic words. "And I'm telling."

A universal gasp ran around the cabin.

"Go back to bed, littluns," Ralph said. "It's past bedtime. You biguns too."

This dose of mundane adultness flatfooted the entire gathering. Almost reflexively, they began to dribble off to bed, some yawning and scrubbing at their eyes.

Ralph waited until he thought everyone was in bed, if not asleep. He looked at the knife again, suddenly hating it. Holding it gave him authority, much more so than the conch ever had. And the conch had broken. This wouldn't break as easily…

His train of thought was suddenly interrupted by the feeling of eyes on him. He scanned the room, looking for the boy who was still awake.

Someone was sitting on a top bunk, watching him. Ralph frowned, and went over to the door. He opened it, letting in a little more light. It was just enough to illuminate that bunk.

On the top bunk, Simon winked at him, and whispered, Told you you'd be all right.

Ralph rubbed his eyes. When the sparkles had cleared and he could see again, Simon was gone as if he'd never been there. Maybe he never had. But someone had stopped Jack cold. Someone had held Ralph back.

Ralph looked at the knife again, and this time it chilled him to the bone. He walked down the hallway to the nearest gear locker. Opening it, he left the knife there. No one would know where it was except him, and an adult would find it and move it soon enough.

He went back into the room of sleeping boys and dreamed about the darkness one more time. But when he woke up, it was light again, and the ship was pulling into an English harbor.